Afghanistan's Elections: Will America Do the Right Thing?

Ed. note: Author and lecturer Tamim Ansary, who wrote Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, explains the upcoming elections in Afghanistan, and his hopes for America to do the right thing:


I have this recurring nightmare in which my life has gone so wrong, I’ve become the president of Afghanistan. I’m hard put to understand, therefore, why forty people are fighting for this job as if their lives depended on it when in fact their lives might not be worth a plugged nickel if they win; yet that is exactly what is happening in a fascinating presidential election now entering its final weeks in Afghanistan.

Fascinating because it’s the country’s first real presidential election. The media will tell you there was another in 2004, when Hamid Karzai won the post he already held that year, but Karzai was running unopposed that time.  Even though some twenty other names were on the ballot, everyone knew Karzai would win if the election came off at all.  The choice wasn’t Karzai or someone else but election or no-election.  Afghans who went to the polls that year were voting for voting itself, and voting won.

They weren’t choosing among candidates, because few even knew who was running.  Yes, the candidates’ names were written on the ballots but over 75 % of Afghans can’t read.  And even if they had heard of the candidates, few knew what any of them stood for because country had virtually no media beyond rumor then.  To be sure, the candidates tried to communicate something of their views with icons placed next to their names on the ballot, but an icon is a crude slogan. One candidate wanted voters to know he was a conservative fundamentalist who stood four-square on the Qur’an, so he chose, as his icon, a book. Another wanted voters to know he was a progressive who fully backed modern education so he chose as his icon—a book.  You see the problem.

Besides, most “candidates” of 2004 had no political platform at all. With Karzai’s election a foregone conclusion, the only other notables running were ethnic and tribal leaders, who were essentially gangsters with private armies. What each of them stood for was a share of the spoils.

But that was then.

Author and lecturer Tamim Ansary, who wrote Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, explains the upcoming elections in Afghanistan, and his hopes for America to do the right thing. Continue reading

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